Article by Sarah Thompson, Director of Communications & Volunteer Mobilization
The youth at Bible Way Temple Nation are at it again.
Over the past year and a half, the group, ranging in age from toddlers to 25, have helped feed, clothe, and help spread love to Hartford residents, particularly those who are struggling to meet their basic needs.
Last year, backed by a grant through Urban Alliance's Next Generation initiative, they met monthly over the summer at Bushnell Park to provide hygiene products, water, food kits, Bible tracts, books, and hot meals to anyone in need. They served free breakfasts to children and youth as a CRT Summer Meals Program site. They collected new and gently-used school uniforms from community members (and even decorated donated collection bins), partnered with a local laundromat to wash them for free, and delivered them to students at Simpson-Waverly school. And, they distributed books, supplies, backpacks, and clothing at a free community day hosted by their church at the end of the summer.
But, they weren't done.
Building upon their previous community-based project, dubbed the "Matthew 25:35 Project," and backed with another grant from Urban Alliance, they embarked on a expanded mission this past holiday season: to spread joy in areas in Hartford where homelessness is most prevalent, and to reach out to families in need at hospitals and shelters during a "Season of Giving" period.
This year's Next Generation grant, coupled with additional capacity-building support from Urban Alliance, helped Bible Way Temple Nation strengthen their child and youth program by assisting them in evaluating the culture of their program and identifying an area where they would like to see positive change. Their chosen area of focus? Empowering.
As they headed out to infiltrate the city with hope and love, Bible Way Temple Nation youth distributed toys and gifts to families, visited and assisted the elderly, and spent time with the sick.
"These efforts helped to increase youth empowerment by [the youth] first empowering themselves with a spirit of giving and unselfish acts," explained Evelyn Hannah, youth administrator at Bible Way Temple Nation, "which lead to others in the community being appreciated."
Healthy adult-youth partnerships have been an important key to the success of Bible Way's youth-led projects and youth empowerment. Adults at the church have provided positive role modeling, and have given youth a voice to encourage their ideas and engaging adults to participate and support them.
"Open and honest dialogue between adults and youth [at our church] have helped bridge the generational gaps and build working partnerships," said Hannah.
Plus, the children, youth and youth leaders from Bible Way are gaining encouragement and support by participating in Next Generation.
"It provides a sense of camaraderie [by] seeing other youth and youth leaders participate in the trainings and worship," shared Hannah. "As a youth leader, participating in Next Generation gives me a sense of encouragement, reinforcement, and hope working with the youth population with different tools and knowledge, especially in the face of many challenges and barriers."
As their latest project wrapped up, positive change was apparent both in Hartford and in the youth. Youth leaders noticed that youth wanted to take initiative and step up to be leaders, especially those in elementary and middle-school.
One teen who participated in the project, Trinity, was especially excited about going out into the community where she resides to help meet needs.
"I like doing this, this was fun," she shared with a smile after carrying out part of the community project on a bitterly cold day.
The next step of the project will be for the youth from Bible Way to fellowship with others from the community at the end of March, where they will celebrate a new season by hosting a free lunch and giving out totes and other essentials that they have prepared.
As for the next season, one thing is for sure. This empowered group of youth will surely be making a positive impact in Hartford, one way or another.
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